Federal government puts squeeze on rural health agencies over vaccines

Public health agencies are no longer allowed to access additional federal funding to provide vaccines to children.

As of the start of the 2013, the federal government has barred public health agencies from using so-called 317 funds for vaccinations if children have insurance other than Medicaid. The effects are already apparent in some rural areas in Colorado, according to

Parents are supposed to take their children to their primary care providers who can then bill insurance companies. Unfortunately, many doctors are no longer storing vaccines because of the high costs and time it takes for reimbursement. The problem is more pronounced in rural communities where public health agencies are the only places where vaccines are kept.

"The funding was critical as we are the only provider of vaccines in our county," Vicky Kosch, a public health nurse who runs the immunization program in Kit Carson County, said, reports.

Kosch is finding it difficult to negotiate contracts with insurance companies who will not certify public health agencies as preferred providers. In the meantime, many Colorado children are going without vaccinations. Some families are setting up payment plans with Kosch and hoping she can find an additional source of funding or new rule that would exempt immunizations from the 317 regulations.

"We're willing to work with families. The state needs to fill in with cash or the feds need to give a waiver to public health (agencies). We buy these vaccines as cheaply as we can," Kosch said, "They're essential to prevent diseases that have been obliterated and could come back in a heartbeat."